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NASA just eclipsed your astrophotography with this decade-long timelapse of the sun

NASA sun timelapse
(Image credit: NASA)

Astrophotography has become an increasingly popular lockdown hobby during the global pandemic, but NASA has given us a reminder that it's being doing it a bit longer than most – it has published an incredible decade-long timelapse of the sun on YouTube.

Called 'A Decade of the Sun', the hour-long video starts back on June 2, 2010, and was captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) that orbits around the earth.

As you'd expect, the stats behind the video, which is mesmerizing if somewhat lacking in plot arc, are pretty incredible. For example, the timelapse is constructed from 425 million high-resolution photos gathered in the ten years to June 2, 2020. 

This amounts to 20 million gigabytes of data, which is pretty huge even with the petabyte era on the horizon. We can only assume NASA has a few external hard drives lying around. 

NASA's naturally needed a bit more than the world's darkest ND filter to shoot the timelapse video, with three main instruments used to capture the images. The main one, called the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), captures images every 12 seconds at ten different wavelengths of light.

Astrophotography on steroids

Despite this incredible technical achievement, you'll be pleased to know that so far 232 people on YouTube have deemed it worthy of a thumbs down.

While we admit this NASA video is lacking in character development, we found it to be a timely meditation on our perception of time (every second in the video is one earth day), not to mention a relaxing work companion thanks to the ambient music supplied by musician Lars Leonhard.

The video starts on June 2 2010, just a few days before Apple announced the iPhone 4, and some observers have used it to mark big life events – for example, YouTuber Balázs Stumpf remarks "my daughter was born at 2:39 and my son at 47:33. Amazing, thanks!".

Naturally, NASA wasn't able to avoid technical issues for the entire decade. A week-long blackout in 2016 was caused by a problem with the AIA instrument, while the moments when the sun is off-center have been caused by NASA's calibration process.

Otherwise, it's a remarkably consistent look at our sun and huge events like solar bursts over a decade-long period. If it's inspired you to start taking your own night sky shots, check out our 'how to take photos of stars, star-trails and the ISS' guide, which only requires a DSLR to get started.